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“Thoughts on Caterham F1 and cars”

November 9, 2012

Cyril Abiteboul. © Caterham F1 Team

Caterham F1 have promoted CEO Cyril Abiteboul to the role of Team Principal with immediate effect.

The Frenchman replaces Caterham Group boss Tony Fernandes, with the 35-year-old becoming the youngest Team Principal in the category.

Abiteboul – a former Renault Sport employee – moved to the Caterham F1 team in August to take the post of CEO. As well as Team Principal, Abiteboul will remain as CEO for the present time.

Fernandes announced on Tuesday that he intended to step down prior to the end of the season in order to concentrate on Caterham Group’s developing automotive programme.

On Monday, Caterham Group unveiled plans to partner with Renault to produce a new generation of Alpine’s from 2013 onward, with a vision to collaborate on a brand new model sports car from around 2016.
This decision represents the logical step for both Fernandes and Caterham, as the Malaysian entrepreneur attempts to drive the group forward.

Caterham’s GP2 Team Principal Riad Asmat will also be assuming greater duties within the company’s automotive division; however he will remain to head the GP2 squad into this season.

Should this deal with Renault allow Caterham to forge footprints in a struggling industry, its dividends could pay out far more than the Formula One project ever could. Until now, Caterham have been producing racing-orientated cars, most notably the Caterham Seven and the new SP/300R.
Production of the Alpine will bring Caterham into the commercial car market for the first time. Meanwhile, Fernandes’ budget airline company, AirAsia, continues to spread its wings, in spite of increasingly difficult economic conditions.

Beyond Caterham’s positive news, it has been a rather rocky few weeks for the automotive industry in Europe as we near the end of an already turbulent year.
The biggest news came from Ford Europe who recently announced a restructuring plan for several of its European factories, following projected losses of €1 billion. With that, the company have also decided to close units in Southampton, Dagenham and Ghent, resulting in direct job losses numbering just under 6,000.
Indirect job losses from suppliers and associated agencies could see that number of eventual redundancies rise to around 9,000.

The UK market has provided one of Ford’s few glimmers of hope, with the news that sales had risen by over 12% in these last twelve months, with its Fiesta range still proving a popular choice.
So far Ford UK have registered approximately 245,000 new vehicles so far in 2012 – a solid feat, but nowhere near enough to turn the company’s fortunes around.
In terms of motorsport, Ford are also pulling the plug on their WRC effort, which comes to a close with rally Spain this weekend.

Peugeot Citroën are also in dire straits, while FIAT have reported major struggles across European territories. At the start of the year, the WEC lost Peugeot and it is thought the WRC may also lose Citroën, especially once the all-dominant Sebastien Loeb retires from rallying at next years Rally France.
A report by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association released during the summer revealed that the industry expects to have sold approximately 12.4 millions cars come year-end; some three million shy the total sold in 2009.

Feeble economies and high fuel prices have turned many consumers away from forecourts and neither issue looks like being resolved in the near future.
As car companies struggle amidst a rising tide of debt and excessive costs, the true picture of the automotive industry in Europe is one of deep crisis and this is the reality of the market that Caterham are entering.

Buoyant though they might be now, Fernandes and Asmat have certainly laid out a significant challenge for themselves.

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